Category Archives: NZ poems

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ashleigh Young’s ‘If So How’

 

 

If So How

 

Opportunity I love you

Windows and watermelons march down the street

—Robert Winner, ‘Opportunity’

 

 

Please detail any future opportunities

you secured as a direct result of the project

 

oooOOOooo

 

I have a feeling I will be stabbed

and I wanted to tell someone.

 

Sometimes my neighbour’s crying

sounds like music and sometimes it sounds like confession.

 

At eel o’clock

the air fills with ferns and gelatinous dark . . .

 

I get opportunities

and release them back into the water,

their colours autocorrecting to grey . . .

 

Sometimes my crying feels like paperwork and

sometimes it feels like an argument

bleeding through my earplugs.

 

The opportunity never to do this again;

the opportunity never to be this again.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Did you meet with any people

(including festival directors)

who could have an impact

on future

opportunities for you

 

oooOOOooo

 

I was walking on the street one morning

and, yes, festival directors were winking in the snow.

One of the festival directors hid under a car

when a group of school children approached,

and I crouched down to see if he would come out,

and I saw that the festival director had lifted his body

right up into the undercarriage of the car, as if possessed.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Did the event help to increase

your long-term international

market profile

If so how

 

oooOOOooo

 

You leave the room for a moment

and when you come back, not only

 

has the jug come to the boil

but someone has died.

 

The lesser greens start to fray as

a new jag of green comes out of the soil.

 

I’m in over my head.

I remember praying

 

because I dreaded school

and the future

 

and I prayed to be hit in the head by a cricket ball

and to spend my last days alive hurtling

 

back through all of the profiles of my life. How? as if pushing

into a row of warm office shirts on the line

 

helplessly ensnarled

and some part of me (neck?) increasing within them,

 

their tiny frayed parts,

and all the workplaces they might represent.

 

oooOOOooo

 

Have you identified

any further markets

or future audience development

opportunities

as a result of this tour/event

 

oooOOOooo

 

I will go on a tour

of my future

 

I will identify

which of my selves

 

to plant in the cool damp soil

and which of my selves

 

to boil alive

and which of my audiences

 

to take down with me.

 

Ashleigh Young   (from How I get Ready, Victoria University Press, 2019)

 

 

Ashleigh Young lives in Wellington and works as an editor at Victoria University Press. She is the author of Magnificent Moon (poems), Can You Tolerate This? (essays), and How I Get Ready (poems). She writes a fortnightly column in Canvas magazine and is the poetry editor at The Spinoff.

Victoria University page

Ashleigh appears at Auckland Writers Festival event Literally Lorne on Friday May 17th.

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Poetry Shelf interviews the 2019 Sarah Broom Prize finalists: Michael Steven

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If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?

– James K. Baxter Pig Island Letters

– Allen Curnow Continuum

– Robert Creeley For Love

– Robert Lowell Life Studies; For The Union Dead

– Elizabeth Bishop The Complete Poems

– Cesare Pavese Selected Poems, Penguin Modern Poets

– Richard Hugo Making Certain It Goes On

– August Kleinzahler Sleeping It Off In Rapid City

– Denis Johnson The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millenium General Assesmbly

– Fanny Howe Selected Poems

– Philip Levine The Simple Truth

– William Bronk Collected Poems

 


What do you want your poems to do?

I hope something of our beautiful and difficult world’s damaged rapture remains in my poems, long after the impetus or occasion for their being written has passed.

 


Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?

I’m still a poor judge of a poem’s strengths, and perhaps an even poorer judge of its weaknesses, but of my entry poems ‘Summer/Haszard Road’ is the one I have the most love for.  (This poem will appear on the Sarah Broom website)

 

There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you?

Here are some memorable triggers:

Cooking and drinking with Malcolm Deans. Spring drives through the Lower Kaipara. Jewel heists in Dubai. Hawkers markets. The Proustian memory avalanches set off by listening to certain records. Flying from Auckland to Dunedin. Driving from Auckland to Dunedin. The spice merchants of Kochi. The industrial plains of Penrose. Tank farms. Musty churches. Junk stores. Museums. Dusk in Taupaki. Coffee and indica. My son.

 

If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?

Embodied. Emboldening. Empathetic.

 

You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?

John Forbes. Ed Dorn. Anne Sexton. Seamus Heaney. Elizabeth Bishop. Ishion Hutchinson.

 

 

Dropped Pin: Three Lamps, Ponsonby

for Ryan Moroney, poet of Papamoa

This poem I started writing ten years ago
to say thanks for buying me breakfast
after a night of rough red and hydro.
Waiting for coffee, outside Cezanne,
the heat climbing high into the twenties,
our brains were slow rebooting that morning.
You’ll remember we shared a table with Monica.
Unduly caged by dubious DSM definitions,
by a psychiatrist’s repeat prescriptions,
she gulped cans of cola through a white straw,
gut-dragged on John Player Specials,
and muttered “Yes, dear,” to our questions.
Ryan, I like to think she was healed a little
every lunchtime in All Saints church,
when the minister threw open the doors
and she shuffled inside the chapel
lumping her cache of shopping bags
stuffed with paperbacks, woollen jumpers,
fortnight-old copies of The Herald
along the aisle and on to the transept
to her daily appointment in the organist’s seat.
I remember one of her small communions,
how the delicate first notes of a minor adagio
by Schubert were held in the humid air
by a common and accessible grace
on a lost afternoon, outside the chapel.
In that district of ghosts we once knew,
Monica is long gone; the minister, too.
Her playing stopped time but was heard by few.
You said goodbye, and went south again.
Her last recital you missed by twenty minutes.

 

 

Michael Steven was born in 1977. He is the author of four chapbooks and the acclaimed full-length collection Walking to Jutland Street which was longlisted for the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (Otago University Press, 2018.) He was recipient of the 2018 Todd New Writer’s Bursary. His writing has been described as “expansive and earthed and spirited.” He lives in West Auckland.

 

at Jacket2 Catherine Dale, Orchid Tierney and David Howard write on Michael Steven (with poems)

Otago University Press Page

 

The Sarah Broom Prize session: Michael appears at the Auckland Writers Festival with the other finalists where Anne Michaels will announce the winner. Saturday May 18th, 1pm, Waitākere Room, Aotea Centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Jack Ross launches Tracey Slaughter’s poetry collection

 

 

 

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Tracey Slaughter, Conventional Weapons, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

You can read Jack’s launch speech with bonus images here, but here’s a taste:

 

‘So while it is technically true that this is Tracey’s first stand-alone poetry collection, it’s very misleading to see her as any kind of newcomer to the game. She’s been publishing poetry for more than two decades now, and it’s high time that we started to see her, like Raymond Carver, as someone equally adept at poetry and the short story.

But what kind of a poet is she? Words like ‘bodily,’ ‘visceral’, ‘grimy and dirty’ have frequently been used to characterise her work, and particularly these poems. There is a lot of sex in them. There’s also lot of desperation, pain, and sheer horror of the void. As Hera Lindsay Bird remarked on the dust jacket of another recent VUP book, Therese Lloyd’s The Facts, ‘it won’t make you feel better.’

But all that implies a kind of shock value: a quest for extremity for its own sake. But you have to read deeper and better than that if you want to begin to understand some of the many things Tracey is trying to do in these poems.

As always, she’s extremely, wonderfully literary. Mike Mathers’ Stuff article about this book states that: “If the collection had an overarching theme, it would be one of giving voice to a group of strong female characters of different ages.”’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Bernadette Hall on Mister Hamilton’s Library

 

Mister Hamilton’s Library

 

The cat is curled on the poet’s lap. It’s very happy there. It licks its paw and rubs its ear with it. Scrinches up its eyes. He’s talking poetry again, the poet. He’s testing some of the lines he’s written. Tasting them, listening to the music. ‘For many years I lived in Southland. / In fact I am from Southland. / Some people say my speech is slow. / I say it’s deliberate, just.’   ( from the poem, Plainsong’. )  ‘My lawn’s a rocket, / a multinational bearded lip bound by corsets. / It wrote the Bible and Mickey mouse / but being modest always blushes green.’    ( from the poem, ‘Sixties relic surveys his lawn’.) The cat’s name is on the cover of the book. It’s the title. Mister Hamilton. Yet there’s no reference to the cat inside the book. Nor is its name mentioned again within the pages.  People ask the poet, ‘Why is your book called “Mister Hamilton?”‘ And he replies ‘It’s the name of my cat. And I love my cat.’

When the poet dies, hundreds and hundreds of books are found in his house, in bookshelves, in cupboards, under the bed, in boxes in the garage. Dante is there and Yannis Ritsos, Francis Ponge, Pablo Neruda, Frank O’Hara. Along with R.A.K. Mason, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen and Peter Olds. His friends miss the sound of his voice. They remember ‘the ‘slow’ reflections  – ‘the kind that imply the presence of a companion, and a habit of conversation.’ (quote: Ian Wedde) The way he made poetry ‘ visible and desirable in his very being.’ (quote: Bernadette Hall. ) The cat remembers the comfort of the poet’s lap, the sound of his voice. The playfulness of all those pages turning. Finally the poet’s books are dispersed among those who will love them. Some, water-stained and mouldy, have had to be destroyed. The bulk of them, however, are out there, doing work that’s timeless and important, refreshing the way we talk to each other.

 

Bernadette Hall

 

Mister Hamilton by John Dickson (1944 – 2017). Published by Auckland University Press, 2016. All quotations are taken from this book.

Auckland University Press page

 

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Bernadette Hall is an award-winning writer who has published ten poetry collections and edited several poetry anthologies (including for Joanna Margaret Paul and Lorna Staveley Anker). Her latest book, Maukatere, Floating mountain, with artwork by Rachel O’Neill, was published by Seraph Press in 2016. In 2015 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, and in 2017 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. She lives in Hurunui, Canterbury.

 

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Poetry Shelf interviews the 2019 Sarah Broom Prize finalists: Jessica Le Bas

 

 

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If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?

I couldn’t read as a child. I didn’t read a book till I was 20. My father read me all sorts of crazy stuff. However, I did read poetry. Because it was short and the sounds were wonderful. I read Keats and Shakespeare and the war poets very young, maybe around ten. It’s slow music, really, poetry. I had no idea what many of the words meant. I liked the beat, the rhythms and the small stories of those poems. I remember carrying little poetry books around everywhere, like they held some secret. And they did!

Around that time my mother sent me to an old woman in Avondale for elocution lessons. My mother thought I was swearing too much! ‘Ain’t’ and ‘not never’ etc. Old Mrs Davy was paid to ‘straighten me out.’ Huh! What she did was teach me the beauty of reading poetry, aloud. She made The Highwayman provocative and wild and fun!

C.K. Stead and Allen Curnow were milestones too, because they read to me at university, and made poetry go beyond the page into a life. And Riemke Ensing because she was wildly passionate, and she unpicked poetry like my father ate flounder; sucking the juice around every small bone.

Later I found a seductive freedom in the voice of Hone Tuwhare’s No Ordinary Sun – in Jenny Bornholdt and Paul Muldoon, and Simon Armitage’s Seeing Stars. Check out his poem, Song – perfect beauty.

 

What do you want your poems to do?

I guess I write to see and hear more about the world I’m in, to be surprised and bear witness to its wonders. I want these poems to be true to their geography, and their people.

When I wrote Walking to Africa, I wanted the poems to stand tall and be loud, and tell the world that adolescent depression is Shit!

In this Large Ocean Islands sequence I want the poems to go beyond the cliché of Pacific Islands, beyond the beachside resorts, to their stronger, truer and older heart.

 

Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?

For me each poem is loaded with the story of its writing, and the wider events that surround it. ‘Large Ocean Islands’ is part of a bigger work in progress, and I’m still being challenged to balance the whole, and to give each poem its place and an integrity of its own too.

‘The White Chairs’ is the ‘oldest’ poem of the sequence. You could say it belongs.

 

 

 

UNDRESSING THE LIVES OF THE SILENT HEROES

ADORNED IN SPECTACULAR SUNLIGHT

In reply to C K Wright’s The Obscure Lives of Poets; Revelation lives on a large ocean island

 

Three serve time in New Zealand. Two in fruit canneries

where golden peaches become the names of their children; Queenie

and Bonnie, who is really Bonanza. One mama brings a nectarine

stone through airport customs in her underwear. Another time,

between two breasts of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Neither flourish.

One thousand roosters with insomnia. One survives the storm that takes

his only son, spends his days in view of the sea, much of it riding.

The sound of one mango falling. Three named after the fathers

of the fathers of monolingual seafarers who came ashore, and left

behind narrow eyes and a new mode of cranial wiring. One of ten

is taken and becomes one of fifteen, unrelated; family ties mapped

back to uplift and shift and fire. One too many three legged dogs.

One joins the police because he believes he can take his dog to work.

One walks around Avatiu harbour at night looking for stars

that have slipped their leash, fallen into the sea. He will be there

to rescue them. One family, the size of fifteen islands connected

by ocean currents. One dances in the lagoon, waist high

in blue, and bouncing for the effect it could have on his waistline,

but only after sunset, and only on the neap tide. One big family.

One maintenance man is sent to prison for acquiring money

that did not belong to him. He has a penchant for high

performance running shoes and real diamonds.

One teaspoon of pawpaw seeds alleviates diarrhoea, and maybe hook worm.

One hands a machete to his son, says just get on with it boy,

not meaning the taro patch or the elephant grass or the palm fronds

hanging over the windows, pulling a blackness over his house.

One Ian George painting is not enough; one stone turtle on the rough grass.

One stays on even after his wife and kids leave, sleeps on a mat

on a friend’s deck, till the mosquitos find him, and immigration says

there is a fine for that sort of behaviour. One wave after one wave.

One island is all one needs to join the dots. One small paradise

emerges in the path of the old navigator, and sets the scene

for growing silent heroes in spectacular sunlight.

 

There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you? 

I remember Jenny Bornholdt saying how a poem’s form finds itself in the writing, and I think that’s true. In Cyclone Season, the unrelenting heat and the way it lingers for weeks here, triggered a list of observations, repetitive and often banal.

Every day I write ‘stuff’ on my phone. Anything. Sometimes I’m amazed how something so ordinary here is spectacular, and starts a chain of surprise and insight. Like seeing a man at the lagoon at dusk with two small turtles in a tub of water. Watching him later taking them out swimming with him, like they were his children.

Poems are like vehicles; they have doors and windows, and they take you places.

Listening and watching, closely, ruminating, tasting, breathing them in – and sometimes being courageous – that triggers poetry.

 

If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?

I’m not sure I am seeking to be ‘alluring’ in the poems I write.

In Large Ocean Islands I’d like the reader to see the wonder of the Cook Islands, and honour it. Each small island is big, and delicate and vibrant, and heavy with old wisdom. Sometimes I get a glimpse of something here that is so far removed from where I come from it feels like I’ve moved in time to what ‘we’ were before consumerism and capitalism and industrial economies. There’s a deep truth and a beauty here, that’s both joyous and heart-breaking.

 

You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?

Seamus Heaney, Robin Hyde, Yehuda Amichai Hone Tuwhare … OK, not a ‘real’ dream then? So many great poets to choose from! Let’s go with… Selina Tusiatala Marsh, Chris Tse, Tusiata Avia, Glenn Colquhoun …

 

 

Jessica Le Bas has published two collections of poetry, incognito (AUP, 2007) and Walking to Africa (Auckland University Press, 2009), and a novel for children, Staying Home (Penguin, 2010). She currently lives in Rarotonga, where she works in schools throughout the Cook Islands to promote and support writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Sarah Jane Barnett picks ‘The Starlings’ by Tim Upperton

 

The Starlings

 

Anger sang in that house until the scrim walls thrummed.
The clamour rang the window panes, dizzying up chimneys.
Get on, get on, the wide rooms cried, until it seemed our unease
as we passed on the stairs or chewed our meals in dimmed

light were all an attending to that voice. And so we got on,
and to muffle that sound we gibbed and plastered, built
shelves for all our good books. What we sometimes felt
is hard to say. We replaced what we thought was rotten.

I remember the starlings, the pair that returned to that gap
above the purple hydrangeas, between weatherboard and eaves.
The same birds, we thought, not knowing how long a starling lives.
For twenty years they came and went, flit and pause and up

into that hidden place. A dry rustle at night, fidgeting, calling,
a murmuration: bird business. The vastness and splendour
of their piecemeal activity, their lives’ long labour,
we discovered at last; blinking, in the murk of the ceiling,

at that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn.
It was like gold, except it was more like shit and straw,
jumbled with their own young, dead, desiccated, sinew
and bone, fledgling and newborn. Starlings only learn

a little thing, made big from not knowing when to leave off:
gone past all need except need, enough never enough.

 

Tim Upperton
from A House on Fire, Steele Roberts, 2009

 

 

Sarah Jane Barnett:

Since I first read Tim’s poem, it’s been my favourite by an Aotearoa writer. When I was a kid living in Christchurch, a hive of bees lodged themselves in our bathroom’s exterior wall. We could see them go in and out through a tiny hole in the stucco concrete. They’d land, pause for a moment on the hole’s lip, and disappear into the hollow. Eventually my parents had them fumigated.

There is so much to admire in Tim’s poem – the vibrating yet unpretentious language; the gentle comparison he creates between the labour of the family who ‘gibbed and plastered’ and the labour of the starlings’ ‘bird business’; his use of the collective noun, ‘murmuration’. I recommend listening to Tim read the poem to really see how good it is.

For me, the emotion of the poem comes from the family trying to ‘muffle’ the starlings. It makes me think about growing up in a house where ‘anger sang’ but was never acknowledged, and the way a child will push their fear and feelings down by concentrating on something else: starlings for example, or bees.

 

 

Sarah Jane Barnett is a freelance writer and editor. Her poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have been published in numerous journals and anthologies in Aotearoa and internationally. She has two poetry collections: A Man Runs into a Woman (finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards) and WORK (2015). Her poems often inhabit the lives of others, and ask how we find connection and intimacy when affected by trauma. Her essays explore the multifaceted theme of modern womanhood. Find out more here.

Tim Upperton’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published widely in New Zealand and overseas, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011), Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).

 

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